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The Summer Before College: 7 Tips for Parents and Teens

The summer before college represents a huge transition between high school graduation and leaving for school in the fall. Families are proud, excited, worried, and quite busy. There is much to do and prepare for, especially if that teen is headed to college in the fall. The summer after graduation is an exciting and overwhelming time as all parties work to navigate the transition. And for many families, the summer presents quite an interesting interpersonal conflict as well, as parents and teens try to negotiate the space between graduation and leaving for college.

From a teen’s perspective, they’ve done it. They’ve completed high school, and are officially transitioning into adulthood, into independence and freedom. This is understandable; graduation is a natural marker of completion of a previous phase and serves as a gateway to the next phase.

From a parent’s perspective, the summer before college is the last opportunity to help prepare them, to have them at home, and to offer guidance, support, and supervision. It is a vital transition period that marks the last chance to engage in important preparation and quality time BEFORE the official transition into independence arrives.

Do you see the problem? The teen sees the summer before college as the first months of independence, the parent sees this summer as the last months of dependence. And it often causes some friction.

So, what do you do to survive the summer before college? Here are a few tips:

Try to see one another’s perspective

Use the above information and talk to each other about your expectations for the summer. The key to this first phase is just to LISTEN. Do not argue the merits of one another’s perspectives. There will be time to negotiate later. For now, see if you can get a solid understanding of what everyone was expecting. Starting from a place of openness and understanding is vital.

This sounds easier than it is, but it’s important to see if you can take one another’s perspective and see where you might be willing to make some concessions

It might mean that parents leave a little bit more room for teens to schedule themselves, but that teens are willing to stay in communication about where they are and what they’re doing. Both parties have to be willing to give a little ground here – that’s the tricky part!

Watch out for unhelpful patterns

What we often see happen is that parents clamp down; they assert their expectations and work to maintain control. Teens, on the other hand, start pushing back; they assert their own expectations and expect to be in control of themselves. This is a vicious cycle – the more parents assert control, the more teens push back – and the more teens push back, the more parents assert their control. Watch for this pattern, and when you see it happen, go back to steps 1 and 2!
Stay in communication

The greatest weapon you have against this mismatch of expectations is to keep talking openly about how everyone is feeling and what everyone expects. You might not agree on it, but if the conversation can stay open, it allows for much more compromise, rather than getting stuck in a tug of war (and likely one where everyone loses). Sometimes, it is helpful to think ahead to respond if your teen becomes rude or difficult.  The summer before college may help set the stage for what future communication with your teen may look like in the fall.

Plan for both time together and time apart during the summer before college

It is healthy to have some of both, and it’s best if everyone is clear on the balance and expectations. Plan for family time, times when teens are expected to be home and present, and plan for times when they are away or able to do their own thing.

Get help if you need it

This might be getting support and talking to other families who are going through it or have been through it, or meeting with a therapist. Either option can be a helpful way to validate how natural everyone’s feelings are in the situation, and potentially can be a helpful way to facilitate communication.

Use kind words

Conflict is hard, especially with those we love. Make a point to tell each other what you appreciate, and offer words of validation, encouragement, and love.

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